The Flamingo Club
The Pink Flamingo
|Public transit||Leicester Square; Piccadilly Circus|
The Flamingo Club was a nightclub in Soho, London, between 1952 and 1967. It was located at 33–37 Wardour Street from 1957 onwards and played an important role in the development of British rhythm and blues and jazz. During the 1960s, the Flamingo was one of the first clubs to employ fully amplified stage sound and used sound systems provided by ska musicians from the Caribbean. The club had a wide social appeal and was a favourite haunt for musicians, including the Beatles.
The club first opened in August 1952 under the management of Jeffrey Kruger, a London-born jazz fan, and his father Sam Kruger. Its first premises were in the basement of the Mapleton Restaurant in Coventry Street. Jeffrey Kruger's intention was to provide a centre for high quality music in comfortable surroundings. It was promoted as Britain's most comfortable club and male visitors were expected to wear ties. The club acquired its name from the song "Flamingo", which was used as a theme tune by the resident band, Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists. Acts were introduced by Tony Hall. The club rapidly gained a strong reputation attracting visiting performers such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and in 1954, Billie Holiday.
In April 1957, the club moved to new premises at 33–37 Wardour Street, where it initially remained primarily a jazz venue with Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes as members of the resident band. The club became particularly well known for its weekend "all-nighters" staying open on Friday and Saturday nights until 6.00 am, a practice which had started on an occasional basis in 1953.
The Flamingo's management was taken over in 1959 by Rik Gunnell, a former boxer, market worker and bouncer who had previously run an all-night club at the Mapleton Hotel with the hotel's manager Tony Harris. Rik and his brother Johnny launched regular all-nighters and the ethos of the club gradually changed.
The Flamingo was sometimes described as an intimidating place in the early 1960s, where gangsters, pimps and prostitutes hung out and fighting among customers was not unusual. In October 1962, the club was the scene of a fight between jazz fans Aloysius Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe both lovers of Christine Keeler, which ultimately led to the public revelations of the Profumo affair.
By 1963, the Flamingo also became known as a centre of the mod subculture, where fans and musicians of both jazz and R&B music would rub shoulders. It also became recognised as a meeting place for famous musicians including members of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and many others. An example of this is that on 6 August 1965, Brian Jones and Paul McCartney attended a performance by the Byrds, with Jane Asher. The club was later renamed "The Pink Flamingo" but closed in May 1968.
Musicians and music
In the early days of the club artists such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and in 1954 Billie Holiday, all performed at the club. Early line ups of the house band included saxophonists Joe Harriott, Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, drummer Tony Kinsey, vibraphonist Bill Le Sage and pianist Tommy Pollard.
Over the years the club succeeded in promoting the best in jazz, rhythm and blues also cross-over genres, mixing successful established acts with up and coming artists. Many of the emerging acts that the Flamingo promoted would go on to become respected music industry names. The Flamingo became not only the venue for a "who's who" of British rock and R&B, but also visiting American artists such as Stevie Wonder, Bill Haley, Patti LaBelle, John Lee Hooker and Jerry Lee Lewis. This melting pot of music industry talent often led to memorable jam sessions.
Musicians who played at the Flamingo in the 1960s included Dizzy Gillespie, Rod Stewart, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Zoot Money, the Big Roll Band, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues, the Animals, Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Bardens, Shotgun Express, Cream, Atomic Rooster, Pink Floyd, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Bobby Tench, The Gass, Alexis Korner, Carmen McRae, Brian Auger, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Long John Baldry, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, the then newly formed Small Faces and Steve Marriott.
Through the resulting melting pot of music, fashion and social cross-culture, the Flamingo played a small but important part in the breakdown of racial prejudice in post-war British society and the club was one of the first UK venues to introduce ska music to a white audience, with performances by Jamaican born musicians such as Count Suckle.
Owners and managers
Jeffrey Kruger established Ember Records in 1960, and later the TKO Group. He became a leading music promoter and was awarded the MBE in 2002 for services to the music industry. Kruger died in Florida in May 2014, aged 83.
Rik and Johnny Gunnell
Rik and Johnny Gunnell, who took over the club in 1959, later set up a management and booking agency in Soho. Together they managed artists such as Zoot Money, Geno Washington, Long John Baldry, Cliff Bennett, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Rod Stewart, Slade, and the Gass.
In January 1966, Gunnell and his brother opened the Ramjam Club, named after Geno Washington's Ramjam Band) in Brixton High Road, London S.W 9. Otis Redding made his British debut there, and the Animals and the Who played the club as favours to the Gunnells. During 1967, Rik Gunnell managed the artist rosta at The Bag O'Nails, Kingly Street, London, W1.
Later the brothers joined the Robert Stigwood Organisation and in the late 1960s, Rik Gunnell took over Robert Stigwood's offices in New York City and Los Angeles. He also set up an après-ski venue in Kitzbühel, Austria. Rik Gunnell died in 2007.
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